Cucumber Finger Sandwiches

My daughter recently called to ask if I could share an easy appetizer recipe as she needed to assemble a quick item for a coworker’s going-away party. She had already looked through the recipes on my blog and couldn’t find one that she could easily make ahead of time and store in the fridge. My mind quickly turned to a simple recipe that I used to make when our children were young. I made this recipe for our annual St. Patrick’s Day Party when we lived in the southwest Chicago area. The yearly parade (and party) was always a fun event for all of the Irish families living in the neighborhood. Slices of pumpernickel cocktail bread are loaded up with a spiced cream cheese mixture and a thick slice of fresh cucumber. A quick sprinkle of dill adds a layer of flavor. Drawing the tines of a fork down the side of the cucumber before slicing, adds a unique design to the appetizer.

Cucumber Finger Sandwiches

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 (.7 ounce) package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix

1 (1 pound) loaf sliced pumpernickel party bread

2 English cucumbers

2 teaspoons dill weed or dill seed

Mix cream cheese and Italian salad dressing mix in a bowl until well blended. Draw the tines of a fork down the sides of the cucumber before slicing (Make sure to pierce the skin of each cucumber.) Spread cream cheese mixture atop pumpernickel party bread and top each slice with a cucumber slice. Sprinkle with a light dose of dill weed or dill seed.

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Handmade Pumpkin Basket

Saturday’s unseasonable temperatures made for a very chilly (end of the summer) basketmaking workshop. Wearing several long-sleeved layers didn’t do much to shield us from the brisk winds during this cool and breezy day. It was hard to imagine that the temperatures had climbed to nearly 100 degrees the weekend before. Despite the weather, we happily socialized as we worked beneath a shelter at a local county park. The item that we were to assemble was a cute round, (continuous weave structure); a pumpkin-shaped basket. Here are the steps that our incredible instructor took us through during this four-hour weekend event.

Dividing the disk into 4 equal parts, place 23 spokes within the well of the disk; weaving while working in the spokes.After weaving 6 continuous rows, gently begin shaping the basket upwards. Continue weaving upward for 14 more rows; loosely weaving to shape the belly of the pumpkin.

At row 19 or 20 begin to tighten the weave to form the top of the pumpkin.

At row thirty, the weave is complete.Bend down, every other spoke. Clip; mark remaining spokes to bend under and secure under weave.Secure wire handle before finishing rim of the basket.Complete basket rim with sea grass and lashing.We enjoyed a beautiful, but chilly, day at our local county park!

Hearty Irish Scones

I’ve been making scones since I was a little girl. My parents were born and raised in Ireland so making scones was a weekly event. During the Lenten season, scones were a definitive staple on the dining table. My father worked for Trans World Airlines so traveling back and forth to Ireland during our summer holiday was a yearly event. Watching my grandmother make bread/scones was always mesmerizing to me. She used a huge ceramic Mason Cash bowl, and mixed everything by hand. None of the ingredients were measured very carefully. She would pour leavening ingredients into the palm of her hand before throwing them into the mix. She used an old china teacup to measure flour for the mixture. The teacup would be placed back inside the bag of flour for future use. The flour that she used was of a course, whole wheat texture. The hearty aroma and flavor were like none other and can’t easily be duplicated with our traditional American flour selection. I’ve often thought of purchasing the flour from available on-line sources but I can’t justify the cost. Hence, I offer this recipe as an alternative. Is it exactly the same as the old country flavor? Well, no…. But, it’s a close second and my family enjoys the hearty flavor of these beautiful scones. Served with a heaping helping of butter and homemade jam, this recipe is a winner.

Hearty Irish Scones

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup old fashioned oats + 1/4 cup for topping

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

10 Tablespoons (5/8 cups) butter or margarine

1 3/4 – 2 cups buttermilk

1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar and salt. Stir in oatmeal. Cut in butter with your fingers or with a pastry blender. Add raisins and mix; then add buttermilk and mix/ kneed just until dough comes together. If dough is too wet, kneed in extra flour; just until dough becomes less sticky.

Transfer dough to a floured work surface and gently shape into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle. Cut either into 2-inch circles with a biscuit cutter. Transfer to baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with extra oatmeal; lightly pat oats into surface. Bake 15-18 minutes, until browned on the bottom. If desired, you can flip scones to bake 2 more minutes to further brown the bottoms. Let cool or serve warm.

Summer Night Pasta Salad

As I was preparing for a weekend get together with some out-of-town visitors, I picked up a tray of precut vegetables to serve with ranch dip for a poolside snack. The tray included an assortment of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and snow peas. While the vegetable tray was a big hit among our guests, having other sweet and delicious snacks left me with a few extra vegetables when it was time to clean up. …No worries, as I could always use the left overs for a big summer night pasta salad. In fact, using the precut veggies can really save time in the kitchen. Searching the fridge for other left over ingredients, here’s the impromptu recipe that I pulled together:

Summer Night Pasta Salad

1 pound fun-shaped pasta

2 tablespoons Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, sun dried tomato mix)

1 (16 ounce) bottle Marzetti Sweet Italian Dressing, or to taste

2 cups tomatoes, diced (sprinkled with a little salt, optional)

2 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 cup chopped broccoli

1/2 cup chopped carrots, optional

6 ounces precooked summer sausage, chopped

1 cup mozzarella cheese

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until al dente, rinse under cold water and drain. Whisk together the Italian seasoning and Italian dressing.

In a large salad bowl, combine the pasta, vegetables, and sausage. Pour dressing over salad; toss. Sprinkle with mozzarella and refrigerate overnight.

Colorful Stuffed Peppers

While gathering produce during my weekly shopping trip, I noticed an abundance of beautifully colored bell peppers piled high in the sale bin as I entered the store. I realized that it had been a very long time since I had made stuffed peppers so I went through a mental checklist of all of the ingredients I would need to make the dish for our Saturday night meal. When picking peppers for this recipe, I was careful to select large, wide, flat-bottomed peppers that would sit nicely in my baking dish. As luck would have it, ground beef was also on sale, so I purchased several pounds of the 93/7% mixture. I love to stock up on versatile meat options, bring them home and divide them into meal-sized portions for the freezer. This allows me to have plenty on-hand, when needed. Here’s how I divided things up:

2 lbs kept for the stuffed peppers

2 lbs were made into hearty hamburger patties, placed in freezer safe container

2 lbs were mixed with ingredients to make 2 meatloaf bricks and wrapped in foil

2 lbs were used to make simple chili without beans, packed into freezer safe bags

(I usually add beans to the chili meat once I reheat later.)

Carefully labeling everything, I used a permanent marker to date and identify the items enclosed. I also bought several pounds of fresh, boneless, skinless chicken for other future meals. I divided each large family pack into 4 freezer bags with 4 chicken breasts in each.

I always feel so accomplished when I have a productive day assembling meals that can be cooked with very little effort during the busy week. These delicious peppers were gobbled up quickly with a few left over for weekday lunches.

I’m ready to relax and enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Colorful Stuffed Peppers

6-8 large bell peppers

2 lbs ground beef

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 (5.6 ounce) package Knorr seasoned rice and pasta blend (chicken or beef flavor)

1 1/2 cups of water

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove and discard the tops, seeds, and membranes of the bell peppers; set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the beef until evenly browned; drain.  Mix in Italian seasoning, onion powder, garlic powder, diced tomatoes (with juice), seasoned rice package and 1 1/2 cups of water.  Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 20-25 minutes to cook rice.  Remove lid, turn off heat and let cool slightly.  Spoon equal amounts of the mixture into each hollowed pepper.

Fill a 13X9” baking dish with about 2”of water.  Arrange peppers in a baking dish with the hollowed sides facing upward.  Tightly cover dish with aluminum foil.  Bake 35-40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the peppers are slightly tender. Remove from oven, uncover and sprinkle each pepper with sharp cheddar cheese before serving.

Honey Granola Clusters

  
As the summer sun ripens a delicious array of fruits and vegetables, I make sure that nature’s bounty takes center stage at the kitchen table. Living in the Midwest, we have so few months during the course of the year where we can have locally grown foods literally sitting at our doorstep. Backyards, gardens and farms throughout the county have the opportunity to produce foods situated in patio pots, raised beds, trellising on garden fences and planted in rows along county roads.

As I was mowing the lawn last week, I spied the beginning of a few delicious looking pears that I can’t wait to harvest when they are ready. My grapes are coming along nicely. I have gathered and prepared several generous heads of romaine lettuce, lots of sweet peppers, and fresh herbs. Nothing compares to the flavors of fresh picked fruits and vegetables that accompany family meals carefully prepared from scratch.

   
   
We’ve also started raising bees as a hobby and as a source for our own golden delicious honey. Planting patio pots with wild flower seeds and leaving our land as natural as possible will provide them a source of food as well.  

   
   
This morning I made a batch of granola clusters to accompany many of the fruits that I grew or purchased from a local farm. A dollop or two of plain yogurt finishes off the dish. (The peaches aren’t quite in season yet so I suppose, there are a few things in the dish that I am hopelessly awaiting as the season continues to bring us an abundance of delicious and nutritious delicacies.)

Here’s to bright warm days and unpredictable summer rains… This is definitely one of my most favorite times of the year.
Honey Granola Clusters


1/2 cup canola oil 

1/2 cup honey

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

5 cups old fashioned oats

1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, whatever you prefer)

1 cup dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries, dried apples, whatever you prefer)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease or line a 11 x 17″ baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and cinnamon until sugar is dissolved and oil is well incorporated. Add in the oats, nuts and dried fruit; mixing well.

Pour the oat mixture onto the baking sheet and spread it out into an even layer, firmly packing the oat mixture into the baking sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan half way through cooking. Remove from oven and let the granola cool at room temperature for at least one hour.

Use a small spoon to scoop up the granola off of the baking sheet using the spoon to break the granola into clusters. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

   

Make these ahead of time; cover them to store in the fridge for a few hours.

 

Strawberry Fruit Leather

  
When strawberries are in season, I usually try to make several batches of fruit leather for my family. Rolling strawberry fruit leather on wax paper strips makes for a delicious, nutritious, summer treat.  

On my daily drive home from work, I pass a local strawberry farm so I usually stop by to pick up a few buckets of fresh berries. There are lots of recipes for fruit leather, many encourage the addition of sugar and lemon juice. For me, I’d rather find the sweetest, freshest berries possible, pulse them in a blender, and pour them into trays to dehydrate. Simple and sweet, a pure delight. Here’s what I do…

Start with sweet fresh berries… Mine are freshly picked

  
Puree 6 cups of fruit and evenly pour onto fruit leather dehydrator sheets.

   
 Dry at 135 degrees for 4-8 hours. Using your finger, press to make a small indentation in the fruit leather. It should not be wet or sticky. It should be tacky. Check in a few areas around the fruit leather disk. Peel the disk off of the silicone sheet while still warm.  Lay on a sheet of waxed paper.

   
 
Using a scissors, cut into strips and roll up tightly. Store in a lidded container in a cool, dry place.

   
   
Make plenty because they disappear fast! 

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While I used 6 cups of strawberries, here are a few adapted recipes recommended by Nesco Dehydrators:
3 cups applesauce
3 cups strawberries

Or, try mixing:

2 cups applesauce
2 cups bananas
In a blender, puree all ingredients. Pour onto Solid Fruit Roll Sheets.

Place on dehydrator trays. Dry at 135º F for 4 to 8 hours, or until leathery. 

Remove from sheets while still warm. Let cool, slice and wrap.

Roll and store in dark, dry, cool place or in freezer.

  
Of course, It’s always fun to make a very berry smoothly with the leftover purée.